Imagine this: you are on a lacrosse field overlooking a beautiful valley at dusk, armed with a pool noodle. Your group of campers is behind you eagerly (and rather unsuccessfully…) erecting a tent. Soon, you see a few silhouettes crest the hill on the opposite side of the field. Their faces are stained with mulberry juice as they approach you and your campers– arms outstretched and moaning like zombies. Your fellow counselors are honing in on your campers quickly, and your heart rate increases as you chase after them and whack them with your noodle.
Such is a typical experience at the valley. My first week of counseling summer camp is over, and though my legs are bumpy with mosquito bites and I have reached a level of exhaustion unknown to me, I cannot wait for Monday to come again. For though we are “in charge” of these kids, it is quite the opposite that makes me come back each morning with a smile on my face. As evidenced by my enthusiasm running all over the property reenacting a zombie apocalypse, I am just as much of a kid as the campers I am watching over.
But there is more to this job than playing games and goofing off, which I have learned from how much I have grown as a leader over the past five days. Most of you know I am a ferocious planner and a perfectionist. However, this past Monday I began co-leading with a counselor who is the polar opposite of me: in the moment, willing to bend the rules, and completely free in spirit. As the days went on, his style of leadership wore off on me and culminated in one specific moment: the day when I pushed a kid off the big zip and dip.
I waited on a platform 40 feet in the air as one of my campers ascended the tree staples to join me. His anxiety was apparent as he sat down next to me and I explained some rules of zipping into the water. I unclipped him from the tree and told him he was free to scoot off whenever he was ready. No movement. I crouched next to him and tried to coax him into going for it. Still nothing. Minutes turned into more minutes, and the kids on the ground awaiting their turn began chanting his name. Soon my co-lead shouted up to the platform, “Just tell Zoe she has permission to give you some help!” I knew what it meant. Everyone knew what it meant. The camper’s wide eyes looked at me in fear. A few minutes later, with one hand on his tether and the other death-gripping the platform, the camper closed his eyes and said in the shakiest voice I have ever heard, “I give you permission, Zoe.” And that was that. I pushed the kid off the platform, and he had the best ride of his life.
Last week, chances are that I would have had that camper belayed back down the tree and he wouldn’t have conquered his fear. And neither would I! For though this child went rushing down a zip line from a tree two stories in the air, I also did something crazy: I adjusted my outlook on leadership and learned so much in the process.
I cannot wait for next week because of the fun games, the challenges, and the beautiful outdoors. As my fellow staff members and I constantly say, we have the best job in the world. But maybe the real lesson here is to not feel that I “cannot wait,” but rather to enjoy this cup of coffee in my breakfast room as I write this blog. Because maybe what the valley is really teaching me is about truly being present while calmly moving on to whatever life’s next adventures will be.
In the mean time while I learn this lesson, I am thrilled for my next foray into zombie survival or opportunity to help someone (or myself!) out of their comfort zone. I hope you are all enjoying whatever adventures this summer is throwing your way. Until next time!